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Angel Hug

Yesterday, I was feeling down.  Hoping that even though I couldn’t change the circumstance, I could change my feelings about it, I started first by asking my Guardian Angel for a hug.

Yes, a hug.

And yes, I really did.

Better yet, I got one.

But you know how we sometimes melt and start bawling when someone gives us a hug at a time when we are holding it all together but feeling really upset?  It was such a comforting hug from my Guardian Angel, I thought the waterworks might start.  But instead, I felt calm and bolstered.  I was surprised but glad.

Then my Guardian Angel shared a message with me:  …and in all things, give …

Being connected to a man of the cloth [my dad is a retired educational missionary, pastor, and professor of world religions], I asked him for context.  While a Google search had yielded a passage in Thessalonians, my father immediately thought of this passage from Philippians.

Philippians 4:4-7

King James Version (KJV)

Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.

Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

The verse from Thessalonians was apropos too:

1 Thessalonians 5:18

King James Version (KJV)

18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

And my search also led me to this video, also very much relevant to my feelings of yesterday:

And it all comes down to this: when in doubt, give thanks.  Or just give.

 

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Let’s Make Lemonade

Friday night I attended a very special event–the Innocence Network‘s dinner for exonerees.

It is the most incredible experience, seeing person after person who has lived through such a horrifying experience walk up onto stage.  It’s phenomenal to see them up there, supporting each other, celebrating each other, celebrating freedom.

It is a reminder to hold precious every whiff of fresh air, every moment with your family.  One exoneree said that he just wanted to hold his pets and some of his stuff.  Some exonerees had been in prison for 29, 30 years, proclaiming their innocence the whole time, holding the faith, staying strong.  Wives, mothers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles … they all held strong, too.

It is a testimony to the human spirit, oh my goodness.  We go through a lot of hard things.  Everybody has their stuff; what has happened to the wrongly convicted is unimaginable and yet most of us can relate to it somehow.  Many difficulties in the human experience can seem unjust.

But can we talk about lemonade stands?

I mean, a lot of exonerees make some serious lemonade out of their lemons.  Darryl Hunt.  Are you kidding me?!  I have so much to learn from you, Darryl.  Darryl went back to the city where he was wrongly convicted twice–the second time, even with DNA evidence proving his innocence!  But Darryl went back to live there when he was released from prison.  He stands in his power.  He stands in his power.  He is a calm, grounded, living reminder of what can go awry in the justice system and what needs to be done to correct it.  But he owns his innocence, and he owns his experience.  He speaks it, he preaches it.  He is one impressive human being.

Let’s talk about all of the attorneys and citizens who devote hours, days, weeks, lives to freeing people who are wrongly convicted.  When all of the exonerees were on the stage, the ballroom was still half-full of cheering, whistling, clapping, hollerin’ folk–the folk who worked their buns off for years to free their clients, brothers, sisters, husbands, sons.  Talk about service.  And then many of them take what they learned from the experience and use it to free others who are innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted.

One exoneree, at the end of their time on stage, took the mic to say thanks to those who had fought for their release.  He reminded us that Martin Luther King, Jr. had said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”  I would argue that that ballroom was full of people who luminesced during times of challenge and controversy–the exonerees who maintained their innocence in the face of pressure to confess, who read law books and found lawyers, who stood tall and strong in the face of adversity … and those on the outside who chose to fight hard and long to regain them their freedom.

It’s not easy, what they’ve been through.  They’ve missed births, deaths.  One exoneree was convicted of killing his own wife and children, and he was imprisoned during their funerals.  Can you imagine?  All the while, proclaiming his innocence.  Another had met the love of his life just months before his wrongful arrest [then conviction].  She gave birth to their child, raised their child plus the two children from his previous relationship, and wed him while he was in prison.  Many years later, she found the Innocence Project and eventually he was freed from prison.

A court clerk proved to be the hero in one exoneree’s release:  She helped the family figure out exactly how to file for DNA testing after a judge had twice denied their request.  [She found a case where the motion had been successful, copied it, and blacked out the names.]  I weep, thinking of how simple and profound a contribution she made in her job that day.  She took this request seriously, and she changed lives that day.  She changed the lives of the people involved in the case, but now her story is out there, and that changes lives, too.  It gives courage and opens possibilities. Ripples in Lemonade Lake.

At the event, I was asked why I started the Duke Law Innocence Project way back in … was it 1999?  I don’t know what I was thinking.  Well, truth be told, I was not thinking.  I was feeling.  You know when something has to be done, and you just do it, like breathing or waking up or telling the truth.

And the truth is this [thank you, Spirit]:  We all make mistakes, we all have our stuff, we all need help, and we all have something to offer.  God help us, fill us with love; unburden us and free us to do our work in our time here in these bodies.

We are walking, living reminders of the love that created us, the love that surrounds us, and the love that dwells in us.  It’s just a beautiful thing when we shed a little bit of that love on our fellow breathers.

On a personal note, I am so grateful to Theresa Newman, who invited me to join her for this event so that I could see the fruits of my early labor–you treated me like an honored guest and got me out of the house and into some heels on a Friday night [no small task].  Thank you for remembering me, for your generosity and fortitude, and for the work you do every single day.  You and Jim took that spark of hope and made it into a full-time clinic, a life-changing experience not only for the people you exonerate but for the attorneys you graduate, from those who work full-time to exonerate the innocent to those who go on to corporate jobs but take pro bono cases to help exonerate the innocent.  Even just increasing awareness of the types of situations that might result in a wrongful conviction.  From the bottom of my heart and the depths of my soul, thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

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Knowing Me, Knowing You

I was born in a small mission hospital in a village in southern India, in the state of Tamil Nadu.  I wonder where my big sister was when I was born … maybe my grandparents had come over to India to take care of her while I was born.  And to meet me, hopefully [I can hear them say, “yes, absolutely”].  My dad worked a lot but played with us when he came home so I rarely truly felt his absence.  My mom was mostly a stay-at-home mom and a loving one, so that helped too!

I grew up in India at a time when all Western material goods were banned.  There was no television, no 7up, no bubble gum.  There were Tamil songs on the radio, Tamil movies in the theaters [though Jaws came–it was so terrifying I hid behind the back curtains for most of the movie], and there were Indian candies and sodas.

My older sister preferred to speak Tamil like her playmates.  So on the eve of my [non-Tamil-speaking] grandparents’ visit, my parents had resorted to speaking only English in the house.  As a result, I grew up knowing barely any Tamil.  I could count; say hello and goodbye; and I most definitely knew how to express, “enough” because at our favorite restaurant they heaped on the curry until we said, “poathum” and held our right hands over our plates [never the left hand–that’s used for unhygienic tasks].  Oh, and I could sing the Indian national anthem [but that is not in Tamil].  That kind of thing.

Eventually, we moved to what is now called Chennai and was then called Madras.  In Madras, the United States had a consulate, and every so often, the consulate would show American movies for ex-pats like us.  I spent many of those hovering in my dad’s lap, too.  Movies were frequently scary or upsetting for me.  Frankly, they still are.  So is the news.

Being sensitive means that I can hear Spirit, I can feel Spirit or other people’s feelings.  It means that I am sensitive to energy and can pick-up on signals that other people might not.  But it also means that I can pick-up on signals that other people might not.  See what I mean?

I spent much of my life being told that I was over-reacting.  It was only in my adulthood, as I began uncovering my gift, that I realized that yes, I was much more sensitive than most people.  As with most traits, that comes with challenges and advantages.  The main advantage is that I can tune-in to energies that others cannot.  The main disadvantage is that I frequently am overwhelmed, disturbed, upset by stories or events or statements that do not affect others this way.  That means I have to be careful about watching the news and movies or wondering what happened in an apparent tragedy [because I might start channeling the spirits involved in the tragedy, and I try not to do that unless i can actively help someone with the information I receive].

Luckily, I also grew up in what PBS once called the Empire of the Spirit. When Oprah visited recently, she also was impressed with how deeply infused the people and culture are with spirituality.  As a spiritual person, a curious person, that was great for me.  As a person who was sensitive to other people’s feelings, there were parts of it that were hard.  The way animals were treated, the way outcastes were treated.  We often had people waiting outside our house to talk to our parents to request financial assistance for food, medical care, education.

When we returned to that village years later, once again there were people lining-up on the porch before dawn, waiting to see my parents.  This time, they had traveled, sometimes days, and brought gifts like towels or flowers from their meager bits of spending money to thank my parents.  Gosh, can you believe that gratitude?!  They never forget a kindness, and they rarely take generosity for granted.  Mostly, my parents had supported their educations, thereby giving them a chance at better jobs and lives for their families.   They developed a sort of policy:  Give them just enough to help them help themselves.  A leg-up.  Gosh, that does a person’s soul some good.  It’s good to do it yourself, and it is good to see your parents do it.

When I graduated from Duke Law, I received my class’ award for pro bono service [I had been the student leader of the Duke Law Innocence Project, which works to free the wrongfully convicted from prison].  The other awards were for academic achievements and seemed more prestigious to me at the time.  As much as my parents emphasized education–having been educational missionaries and obtaining advanced degrees–my father said he was most proud to see me receiving an award for having been of service.

I can’t take credit for what I haven’t done or who I haven’t been.  I can try hard to be who God created me to be, to live my life to its best and fullest.  I don’t know who you are or who you are meant to be, but I do know God created you to be a spectacular you, and we can all be glad for that too.